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Dave Pompei, Central Power Plant foreperson, checks one of three chillers the university owns. Wesleyan is being aggressive in its energy conservation efforts.

Pictured at right is a view inside one of Wesleyan's three boilers. Wesleyan will be installing a new cogeneration system that will replace the use of one boiler in the summer.

Posted 05.28.06

Saving Energy All Summer Long

Wesleyan is pulling the plug on high energy usage.

Something as simple as unplugging the office coffee machines for the weekend can save Wesleyan thousands of dollars a year, says Peter Staye, associate director of utilities management in Physical Plant. Although the burners are off, most coffee machines continue to heat the water left in the reservoir 24-hours a day.

Staye ran his own experiment with Physical Plant’s coffee maker and measured the amount of electricity used in a one-day period. What he discovered is that 1 percent of all energy consumption campus-wide is used by coffee machines.

Of course this is just a tiny component of Wesleyan’s $3.03 million dollar annual electric bill. The bulk of this usage is from heating and cooling the campus. Lighting is the second largest consumer of energy, and sadly, wasted energy is third.

“If Wesleyan employees and students would remember to turn the lights out and their computer monitors off when they’re not using them, and turn down the AC over the weekend, Wesleyan could save 15 percent of its electricity use,” Staye says.

Staye and the Physical Plant staff are already hard at work with preventive conservation measures. This summer, Physical Plant will replace the Center for the Arts office’s incandescent spot lights with fluorescent lights, saving $7,085 a year. They will also replace the lighting in the Center for the Arts Theater, saving $44,380 a year, and the lighting in the Music Studios, saving $88,271 a year. The entire replacement will cost $120,000, and will pay for itself in savings the first year.

Over the last three years, the university has been able to keep its electrical consumption almost flat, even though new air-conditioned buildings have been brought on-line.

"This is a trend we work hard at continuing, though it is getting harder and harder each year to keep the peak from increasing," Staye says.

Not only does all this save the university money, the State of Connecticut is counting on Wesleyan to continue with its efforts.

The state, which is already importing energy from New York and Maine, cannot support the summertime power demand needed by Connecticut’s 3.5 million residents. The state’s power grid, which moves power around, is also old and undersized.

"Reducing electrical consumption during the summer is especially critical as should demand exceed supply, there is a real potential for regional brown outs this summer," Staye says. "A lengthy heat wave could cause real problems, and until the grid can be updated in 2010, conservation is the only alternative to shortages state-wide."

In fact, the Connecticut Department of Public Utility is offering Wesleyan a $1.3 million rebate to install a Cogeneration system, known as CoGen. GoGen is the use of a single fuel source, such as natural gas, to simultaneously generate both electricity and heat. Heat produced from generating electricity is captured and used to produce steam and hot water to be used as a heat source in dorms and other campus buildings. Conventional power plants emit the heat created as a by-product in to the environment.

The cogeneration system or would cost $1.7 million after rebates; however it will save about $500,000 a year in energy costs. The Central Power Plant currently uses large boilers and coolants to service the heating and cooling needs of the 90 largest buildings on campus, and the cogeneration system will work in parallel with that equipment.

"CoGen at Wesleyan will increase the reliability of our electrical delivery systems, benefit the environment, and save us substantial amounts of money," says John Meerts, vice president for Finance and Administration, who proposed the CoGen's installation. "Meanwhile we are helping to reduce the problematic Connecticut power delivery and generating situation, albeit in a small way. CoGen seems like a win win situation."

If there is a good side to the deregulation of the electrical industry, Staye says, it is that cogeneration systems have become a lot more cost effective.

The CoGen equipment, which was approved in May, takes 18 months to install, and it will be active in January 2008.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor